Workplace discrimination can have detrimental effects on your job, confidence, future earnings and mental wellbeing. Going on can be very hard; causing permanent harm that will bleed into all aspects of your life. However, there are certain reasons for which your employer can’t discriminate against you by law.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination occurs when an employer treats one employee with less favour than others. This may mean that a female employee is paid less than a male colleague for doing the same work, or that an employee from an ethnic minority background is denied the training opportunities provided to other colleagues.
There are strict laws against such types of discrimination (called ‘unlawful discrimination’). If you are handled less favourably by your employer for an illegitimate cause, you will be allowed to act.
There are laws against discrimination on the basis of your:
- Religion or political opinion
- Marriage or civil partnership
- Sexual orientation
- Gender reassignment
- Pregnancy and maternity leave
- Ethnic background
Types of discrimination
Legislation protects employees from discrimination of different types:
Direct Discrimination: Direct discrimination occurs when, for one of the reasons mentioned above, an employer treats an employee less favourably than another. For example, if a driving job was only available to male applicants it would be direct discrimination.
Indirect Discrimination: Indirect discrimination is when one group of people is affected rather than another by a working situation or law. Saying, for example, that job applicants must be clean shaven puts members of certain religious groups at a disadvantage.
Indirect discrimination is unlawful, whether it is done intentionally or not. It is permitted only if it is necessary for the way the business operates, and there is no other way to achieve it. For example, if the work involved handling food and it could be seen that having a beard or moustache was a real hygienic risk, the requirement that applicants must be clean shaven could be justified.
Harassment: You have the right not to be mocked or made fun of in the workplace or in work-related environments (e.g. an office party).
Harassment is an offensive or threatening action-a sexual language or racial harassment aimed at insulting, weakening or harming the target or having that effect. For example, allowing sexually explicit material to be displayed or distributed, or giving someone a potentially offensive nickname.
Victimisation: Victimization involves treating someone less favourably than others because they have sought to make, or made, a discrimination case. This may be stopping you, for example, from going on training courses, taking unfair disciplinary action against you, or banning you from social activities in businesses.
Being treated unfairly for other reasons: If you are being treated unfairly, but not for one of the above-mentioned reasons, it may be that you are being bullied. Bullying should never be acceptable within the workplace or outside it. When you are seeking to assert your constitutional rights and your employer is wrongly punishing you for that, you might be entitled to take legal action. For example, your employer does not have the right to mistreat you, because you have asked for National Living Wage.
Where you can get help about discrimination
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and Advice NI offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them too.
At McPartland & Sons Solicitors, we are a skilled team of employment law specialists who can help you if you are unsure of your employee rights. Our teams in Lurgan and Lisburn are ready to defend you and support you through the entire process. We have an excellent track record of resolving disputes without the need for a tribunal, so you benefit from a satisfactory resolution as quickly and cost effectively as possible. If you are an employer seeking employment advice and help with managing the human resources element of your business in a manner which prevents problems from arising in the first place, we can also offer expert advice and guidance on what procedures and documentation you should have in place. Talk to us today – contact our offices in Lurgan or Lisburn and talk to a member of the team.